Our ankles help us do everything from simply getting out of bed in the morning to more involved tasks like jumping and squatting. With so many complex mechanisms—ligaments, tendons, and bone—housed within the ankle, it’s no surprise that there are a variety of different injuries the ankle can sustain! The terms sprain, strain, and fracture may sound like one in the same, but each term applies to one of these essential parts in the ankle and informs how the injury should be treated.
Ligaments are the connective tissue that bring together bones and joints. Like a hinge, the ligament allows the joint to open and close. An unexpected landing or movement may cause the ligaments supporting your ankle to stretch out of their normal range causing a sprain. This can happen when you step incorrectly, trip, or twist your ankle.
Sprains can be graded as mild, moderate, or severe:
- Mild Sprain: The ligament is overstretched and sore. Treatment consists of keeping off the feet and utilizing The RICE method—rest, ice, compression, and elevation.
- Moderate Sprain: There is slight tearing in the ligament. Treatment is similar to a mild sprain, but the patient will need more time off of the foot to allow proper healing. A wrap may also be needed to stabilize the ankle.
- Severe Sprain: All or part of the ligament has ruptured. In some severe cases, surgery may be necessary to repair ruptured ligaments. This results in a longer healing time and may mean no weight-bearing on that foot for a few weeks.
Muscle strains are associated with the tendons that are the connectors between muscles and the ankle bones. Much like ligaments, these tendons can be overstretched or damaged. This can happen through overuse such as running longer or harder than the body is conditioned for or sudden trauma. Tendons can also fully tear, just like ligaments, or slip out of place. Much like sprains, mild or moderate cases of tendon strains can be treated with the RICE method, but a tear may require surgery, and extended time off the foot to let it heal correctly. Chronic inflammation of the tendons is referred to as tendonitis, this can happen to the peroneal tendons that surround the ankle.
A fracture is when one or more of the bones in the ankle is cracked or broken. This is usually a result of an accident, a hard fall, or blow to the ankle. While less common, fractures can even occasionally be a result of overuse. The ankle is home to several small bones, making it common for an ankle break to include multiple hairline or complete fractures.
Healing of a fracture can be complicated depending on how the fracture is defined:
- Hairline Fracture: This means the break is not full but instead a crack in the bone. This is the simplest fracture in regards to the healing process.
- Non-Displaced Break: This designation means the bone is fully fractured, but ends of the bones have stayed in the right place and will heal more easily.
- Displaced Break: This is a full fracture where the ends of the bones do not align because one or both bones are no longer in the right position. A displaced break is the most complicated fracture and requires more healing time due to surgery.
While a fracture may not be immediately evident to the patient, any traumatic injury to the ankle should be treated as soon as possible. A fracture will usually come along with sharp pain and swelling around the ankle. An x-ray will reveal the severity of the fracture, and determine the course of treatment. Most ankle fractures will require extended time off the foot to allow the bones regardless of surgical intervention.
While ankle injuries can seem insignificant, letting an injury go untreated can result in complications and long-term discomfort—even when the injury appears minor! If you have suffered from an ankle injury, contact Martin Foot and Ankle to schedule an appointment with one of our expert podiatrists. Visit our online contact page or call (717) 757-3537 today.